Eaten Alive (1976)
Directed by Tobe Hooper
Cast: Neville Brand, Mel Ferrer, Carolyn Jones, Marilyn Burns, William Finley, Kyle Richards, Robert Englund, Stuart Whitman.
1976 96 minutes
Rated: (for violence, profanity, nudity, sexual situations, and gore).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, October 11, 1998.
In 1974, director Tobe Hooper made what some consider one of the best modern horror films ever made, "The Texas Chain Saw Massacre," which was about a group of teens vacationing in the country who one-by-one find a farmhouse in the middle of nowhere, and are systematically slaughtered by a family of cannibals. To be sure, it was a superbly-made, terrifying horror film.
Hooper's sophomore effort, "Eaten Alive," which had a bigger budget but is lesser-known, repeats this same basic formula. If you replace the farmhouse with a hotel, you've got a pretty good idea exactly what it is about, as a homicidal maniac slaughters his guests with a scythe and then throws them into the swamp behind his house, which contains a crocodile from Africa.
By reading the premise, "Eaten Alive" may sound a little goofy, and in a way, it is, but it is also stylishly filmed, and the production design is quite impressive, as it creates a creepy atmosphere for the hotel which obviously is a soundstage. One thing that sets it apart from being a "regular" slasher film is that Hooper certainly did try to make a good movie, but that also leads to the problem with the film, which is that Hooper also hoped lightning would strike twice with filming what could be seen as a basic remake of his early masterpiece, and it simply isn't at that level.
"Eaten Alive" isn't nearly as effective as "The Texas Chain Saw Massacre" because it is missing that film's feeling of terror. This movie is more stylized, but it has lost its grit and realism. The plot also is much more far-fetched, since the audience must believe that a hotel in the middle of the woods in a rural area would constantly be getting customers throughout the night, including a family with a dog in tow (don't even ask what happens to that poor pooch).
The other problem with "Eaten Alive" is that the villain (Neville Brand) is never developed, and so we never know who he is or why he has gone off the deep end. He has no motive except that he is crazy and likes to feed his crocodile. The victims are also quite stupid, and do all of the wrong things while being chased by the killer. And that crocodile, by the way, is very phony looking.
"Eaten Alive" isn't a bad horror movie, by any means. It is actually a servicable one, much better than most. Another added bonus is seeing an early Robert Englund (Freddy, from "A Nightmare on Elm Street"), as a horny young customer, and Kyle Richards (Lindsay from the original "Halloween") as a little girl vacationing with her family who stop at the ill-fated inn. But it is at the story level of "Eaten Alive" that the movie gets bogged down the most, and even though it was made 22 years ago, it was definately not a step up for Hooper after making such a big splash with "The Texas Chain Saw Massacre."
© 1998 Dustin Putman